Trump backs off hardline denuclearization demand after North Korea threatens nuclear showdown

Getty Images/PoolPresident Donald Trump.
  • President Donald Trump on Thursday showed some flexibility in his previously hardline approach to North Korea.
  • The day after Pyongyang’s harshest threats in months, he acknowledged his core demand may not be viable.
  • Trump has long insisted that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons before the US will ease up on sanctions but acknowledged Thursday that it may not be possible.
  • His comments come a day after a North Korean official threatened the US with a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”

President Donald Trump showed some flexibility in his previously hardline approach to North Korea on Thursday, acknowledging that his core demand may not be met.

It comes the day after Pyongyang issued its harshest threats in months, raising the specter of a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”

In an interview with the “Fox & Friends” talk show on whether he would go through with the planned June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump gave noncommittal answers.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Right now we’re looking at it, we’re talking about it. And they’re talking to us. We have certain conditions. We’ll see what happens. But there’s a good chance.”

The summit, which would be a historic first meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, has been on the rocks. Pyongyang has produced harsh statements bashing Trump administration officials and South Korea, potentially threatening the event.

On Thursday, North Korea appeared to destroy parts of its nuclear testing site before a crowd of foreign journalists in an apparent show of goodwill.

But the move doesn’t rise to the level of the verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that Trump has previously insisted on, since North Korea could simply rebuild the site.

Trump and his top officials have long insisted that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons before the US eases up on economic sanctions and military pressure, but Trump acknowledged Thursday that those demands may not be met.

Asked whether he would be OK with a “phased in” approach to denuclearizing North Korea, Trump showed flexibility where before there was none.

“I’d like to have it done immediately,” Trump said. “But you know physically, a phase-in may be a little bit necessary, we will have to do a rapid phase-in, but I’d like to see it done at one time.”

Trump’s comments come a day after a North Korean official threatened the US with a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown” and suggested Pyongyang could “make the US taste an appalling tragedy” if things didn’t go its way.

Though North Korea opened 2018 with many peaceful overtures and steps, it has recently taken a harsh turn toward criticising US and South Korean actions and statements. It has also repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the coming summit.

Trump has heralded his success in bringing North Korea to the table. But on Wednesday North Korea suggested it was Trump, not Kim, who had pushed for the summit.

While a staggered approach to denuclearizing North Korea seems more realistic to experts who don’t expect Pyongyang to unilaterally disarm, it’s the same track taken by four successive US presidents that Trump has promised not to repeat.

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